Black Women Are Tired Of The Hygiene Olympics

Many historians and critical race theorists have examined how white supremacy, and the insidious correlation between whiteness and ‘purity’, have led to racist ideas about cleanliness throughout history. As writer and journalist Tayo Bero wrote for Best Health, “During slavery, the association between dirtiness and Blackness was prevalent throughout the British Empire, including Canada.” Enslaved Black people were often prevented from using soap, and forced to live in unhygienic conditions, yet the stigma that Black people are somehow inherently dirty prevailed. Bero also cited how racist imagery and soap advertisements in the 1800s, including the notorious Pears’ Soap advertisements, depicted Black people as being dirty or unclean. In the essay, ‘Tidy Whiteness: A Genealogy of Race, Purity, and Hygiene’, written by Dana Berthold, the author writes that “in the early US, cleanliness was associated explicitly with civility, high class, and whiteness.” Berthold wrote, “In the early US, not only was it the case that upper-class whites could afford an exaggerated aesthetic of cleanliness, but high-class purity (and moral propriety) became increasingly tied to the color white in general.” 

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